A New Tune

Tender Spring 05 (4)Tender is a very smart dress shop where they take their fashion seriously.  As I take the landscape seriously, we relate just fine to one another.  Commercial clients understand that the presentation of their business outdoors says a lot about what goes on inside. They want the outside of their store to look as fresh and newly conceived as what they carry inside.  I am thinking about Tender today, as Fine Gardening magazine wants to publish a picture of one of my containers in their special spring container issue.  As part of their profile on me, they asked me why I value container plantings. 

Aug 28d 399A container planting is a one-season committment. Unlike the landscape, the plants have to be replaced every year. The responsibility for a landscape can go on for many years.  I sometimes don’t make changes that I should, out of sheer inertia.  But my containers force change on me.  I have no choice but to observe and learn how to do better, and redo them-or be stuck twiddling my thumbs from sheer boredom.  A container planting is a miniature version of any landscape.  I would much prefer growing up as a gardener over four square feet and some annuals, than 100 square feet and a truckload of shade perennials.    

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My work enables me to design many landscapes, but there is only one which belongs to me.  I’ve made some decisions about it that I will no doubt keep as long as I garden there. Though I value history and continuity in my landscape, my annual containers are perennially fresh in that saucy adolescent sort of way. By the time they get tiresome, they are over; a new season is not far behind, chasing me about what is next.   

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I also like the idea that any person interested in gardening is not shut out by their hard surfaces.  Containers are great for people who lack land.  I entertain guests for dinner on a wood deck-should I do without a garden there?  I have planted the pots pictured above a good many years, sometimes four times a year. This kind of exposure to handling the same pots, the same surface, and the same location in a fresh way is a challenge I am heir to-so I should best welcome it.   

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People experience nature on a lot of levels.  One year, every spring pink flowering tree I saw irritated me.  A pink tree-ridiculous.  A tree, looking like a party dress for an eight year old-what serious gardener would want one?  This year, the pink crabs and magnolias enchanted me.  I so appreciate that one aspect of gardening invites me to indulge my mood with a gesture that is very much about the moment.  The gestures I make new every season-they are worth it.

Tender #2 (1)Pumpkin hats on the conical boxwood-this made me smile. The willow sticks dyed orange-I bought an entire container load of these some years ago from Spain- in lots of jewel like colors.  Several hundred thousand sticks-no kidding. Getting a phytosanitary certificate sufficient to get them through customs was a headache that made me want to black out.    Though looking at this picture makes me want them again in the worst way, I know something new is just ahead of me.  

Tender #3 (1)The winter is our quiet season.  Our colors are subdued, but not our gardening spirit. But for these planters, with their Alberta spruce topiaries and their greens, this view would be more bleakly about concrete than need be.  

Tender07This year one gallon size PJM rhododendron and dwarf globe arborvitae filled the rectangular pots.  I bought dead trees from my nursery supplier, and varnished the bark after dusting them with copper spray paint.  Platinum ball ornaments and squares of tarred jute ornament the trees. Each tree had a bird’s nest of fine platinum colored wire at the base.  A winter landscape.

A new supplier sent me the most divinely cinnamon colored  curly willow this fall.  Flame willow, they call this.  The short blonde curly cloud you see at their base-peach paper covered wire.  How this willow and these paper picks came to be in my hand-a new look for these pots forced me to consider new materials in unlikely partnership.   The blue green noble fir-a strikingly lush base to all of these orangy top knots. Gardens in containers-it can be more than you bargained for, should you let it.


  1. Wow… as usual your designs are breathtaking — what a great series of images! I love how you’ve created so many completely different gardens in the exact same space. I’m filing a link to this post away in my awesome design inspiration folder.

  2. Lauren Balames says

    Congrats on the publication in Fine gardening!!

  3. Deborah,
    I’m excited to hear you will be in Fine Gardening, they made a great choice when they decided to feature your container gardening skills.

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